Dr Cheah Boon Kheng Interview with R.G Balan - Memoir of R Balan, Vice-President of the Malayan Communist Party
A few days ago I had the chance to go through an article by Dr. Cheah Boon Kheng, based oh his interviews with R.G Balan - Memoir of R. Balan, Vice-President of the Malayan Communist Party. Due to copyright issues, I am not able to reproduce the same document here.
In his paper, Cheah commented:
"In the spate of published memoirs of leaders and officials of the Malayan Communist Party that began appearing following the end of their armed struggle in 1989, the voice of R. Balan, the vice-president of the MCP, has been noticeably absent. English-educated and Chinese-speaking R. Balan was the nom-de-guerre in the party of R. Raja Gopal.
Based on Dr Cheah's interview with Balan in 1974, an article was published in the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, Volume 88 No.309 December 2015. I have extracted the followings from the article:
Personal Details and Family
- R.G Balan's actual name was Raja Gopal. He was born in Nova Scotia Estate, Teluk Intan, Perak on 22nd November 1921. His father name was K.Ramalingam, a conductor-cum-clerk on a rubber estate came from Ceylon. His mother's name was Sinnathaiammal, a housewife who came from Madras. Balan was eldest of four children (two boys and two girls).
- Balan's father, Ramalingam, worked on Nova Scotia estate in Perak. When Balan was five months old, his father sent the whole family to India. They lived in India for seven years. They returned to Malaya in 1929, to rejoin his father at Jong Estate where his father was a manager.
- Balan had his primary education at the Anglo Chinese School, Teluk Intan and completed his secondary education at the Nagaratnam Memorial English School. He passed the Junior Cambridge Certificate in 1937. But unable to sit for his Senior Cambridge due to pneumonia and was bed-ridden for nearly two months.
- Balan left school and went out to work to support his mother, brother and sister. His father left them in Teluk Intan to work in Bertam Estate in Kepala Batas. (The family did not know that his father had a another wife)
- Balan worked as an apprentice clerk at Selaba Estate, Teluk Intan for two years without any payment, and then as a clerk at Ulu Bernam Estate in 1940 to 1941.
Japanese Occupation and Death Railway Labour Recruitment
- Two months after Japanese occupation, the Japanese armed forces visited Ulu Bernam Estate. The commanding officer felt the office field staff in Ulu Bernam Estate was exorbitant, therefore decided to transfer a few of the staff to other estates where they are needed. Balan was one of the transferred to Jong Estate as officer-in-charge.
- The Japanese started to recruit labour force from the estate to be sent to build the railway in southern Thailand - The Death Railway
- The Jong Estate is about 1,000 acres with 200 men and women. Balan was ordered to prepare a list of labourers who could be sent to Thailand. When the first batch of young able-bodies labourers about 150 men to be sent to Thailand, the womenfolk came to Balan's house and started crying, pleading for help and urging Balan not send their sons, husbands and fathers to their death. They had heard of the horrors of the Death Railway, had no hope of ever returning. Balan was very moved by their tears and pleas, and decided to help them
- On the 22nd August 1942, Balan gathered all the labourers who were supposed to leave the next day and told them to leave the estate by 2 a.m. Balan was also one of the recruits to the Death Railway
- The next day by 9 a.m, the labourers had left the estate. Meanwhile, Balan decided to join the MPAJA in the jungle.
- Balan had frequent contact with MPAJA at Jong Estate. MPAJA would visit him secretly to discuss the possibilities of joining MPAJA. Balan known to be a sympathizer, who helped the people with their problem, especially in getting rations of food. The MPAJA was anxious to have some Tamils in their propaganda bureau. Having good knowledge in Tamil language and passed Standard VII in Tamil School, Balan would be useful in running a Tamil newspaper for MPAJA.
- Balan was reluctant to decided at the earlier stage but it was the Death Railways issue that finally made him to make up his mind. Balan decided to take a stand when the recruiting Japanese officer told him that he would be one of the recruits to Death Railway.
Taking the Family to Safety
- On the 22nd August, Balan contacted the MPAJA representatives to inform them that he would be entering the jungle on the 23rd August. Before joining the MPAJA, Balan needed to ensure the safety of his family. Balan decided to send his family to Kepala Batas to stay with his father. Besides his family, there were two more individuals knew about his plan - family friend Dr Chin and Moller - a Danish Inspector of Estates.
- At 9am on the 23rd August, Balan and family were waiting for train at Tapah railway. Balan's plan was to travel on Kepala Batas and returned on the same day to Jong Estate.
- Balan's plan was upset when he discovered that all the trains were used to transport labourers to Thailand. As Balan was standing on platform waiting for the train to take them to Kepala Batas, the Japanese Commanding Officer of Teluk Intan and recruitment officer and accompanied by an Indian clerk approached him.
- The commanding officer asked Balan what he was doing at the station and what happened to the labour force that Balan promised? Balan lied that the labourers waiting at the road side for the transport and not sure why the labourers had not arrived yet. As for Balan he was there to send off his family as he was preparing to leave to Thailand. This somewhat made the Japanese Officer to lose his temper and unsheathed his sword and threatened to decapitate Balan on the spot. The Indian clerk stopped him and told him to deal Balan at the office the following day. After the Japanese replaced his sword, the officer slapped him and told him to present himself at his office at his office the next day. Balan quickly took his mother, brother and sister and left the station. They hid in one of the quarters nearby the station until 6 p.m when the train arrived.
- By then all the labourers from other estates bound for Thailand had left in the trains. None of the labour force from Balan's estate had turned up. Balan knew his life was in grave danger and Balan had to reach Kepala Batas before too late.
- Kepala Batas which located in Province Wellesley (Butterworth) is about 100 over miles from Tapah and Balan's family reached the place about 2 a.m. on the 24th August 1942. Balan told his father of his mission. "You are going to join these blooming people" said his father sarcastically, referring to MPAJA. But gave his blessings and Balan hurried back to Jong Estate to join the MPAJA.
Going into Jungle Joining MPAJA
- The MPAJA representatives was waiting for Balan when he reached the estate at 3 p.m. Balan collected his clothes and met the waiting MPAJA men - 4 Chinese men dressed in civilian clothes and were armed.
- The first destination was a farmer's attap house on a steep of a small hill about four to five miles from Jong Estate. They stopped there for a night. They met a few MPAJA men there. A short while later they heard a commotion below the hill. Farmers' houses were being destroyed by fire by the Japanese forces. The farmer who housed Balan and the MPAJA members too frightened with the situation. Fortunately, the Japanese forces failed to locate the farmer's place as it was getting darker. On the following day, we heard the Japanese were in fact searching for Balan. As the could not find him there, they became furious and began setting up fire to the farmers' houses. The Japanese also decapitated a few farmers.
- The next day, Balan was further escorted to a camp near Langkap. Balan stayed there for nine months. Later shifted to another camp because they heard that the Japanese were searching for their camp.
Life in Langkap Camp
- At the Langkap camp, there were 5 of them, where Balan met Wu Tain Wong who was later to become the top Singapore MCP representative.
- Wu took charge of Balan explain why he was brought in. Wu spoke English and gave Balan lot of books to read. Everyone was very good to Balan. They cooked their own food and their supplies were brought in by messengers who would go in and out. They had rice, sugar and all the necessary foodstuffs.
- Balan was groomed by Wu who thought him communism. Six months later, Balan was asked to do translation of a script in English. Balan translated on stencils into Tamil which were taken out by the messengers for distribution. The MPAJA was happy with Balan's command of Tamil language.
- The Langkap Camp was responsible for the publication of the party's propaganda news sheet, "The Voice of Malaya" in English and other publications in Chinese, Malay and Tamil. Wu taught Balan Mandarin and Balan mastered some 3000 over Chinese characters in the course of time.
- Balan wrote poem in Mandarin which was published in Sin Chew Jit Poh when he came out of the Detention Camp for a hearing in Ipoh.
- From Langkap Camp, Balan moved to another camp with 33 members, including women, under the control of Liu Yau -a central committee member in-charge of the propaganda.
- Discipline was very good. There was no immoral behaviour or relationship. Both men and women would sleep together and there would be no misbehaviour. Women behaved like men. They did men's work. They wrote on stencils and did all manual work too.
- A normal day in the camp would begin at 6 a.m. They had physical exercise usually kung-fu. One of them would take turn to cook. The compound was very clean. They would translate on the stencils and rolled on the duplicating machinery. The printed propaganda leaflets would then taken out and distributed.
- According to Balan, Liu Yau was a fine gentleman, capable leader who take criticism openly.
- Balan was only the person who did translation in Tamil and there were three Malays with them. Abdullah CD was one of them.
- Balan's camp was regarded the propaganda headquarters of MCP and Balan remained there until the war ended. The degree of understanding between the Chinese, Malays and Indians was very great. They studied Marxism-Leninism or "Ma-Le Chu-i" classes twice a month. There were also self-criticism classes. During discussion on Marxism-Leninism, the superior would be our guide and he knew his theory very well. They also discussed international affairs, current affairs and the political situation of the Japanese. Sometimes our self-criticism classes would discuss the propaganda work they had done and how they would improve our work to serve the party better.
- Balan edited Jayamani (Victorious Bell). The camp also published the Ren Ta Pau ( The People's Paper) in Mandarin and Voice of Malaya in English. Initially Balan's Tamil translation was described as too highbrow, and Balan was asked to make it simple.
- Sometimes they would take break from work to go for wild boar hunt. Besides wild boar, tiger and chimpanzee too hunted. They too rear poultry. During hunting gunshots would attract unnecessary attention sometimes. There were a few cases of messengers who worked as spy for Japanese Army were tried and punished. Otherwise, there was a great deal of mutual trust and goodwill among all races in the camp.
- All the changes in party leadership were announced in the party newssheets. The MCP's flag with its symbols of the hammer and sickle was prominently displayed with Stalin pictures at times of ceremony in the camp. The standing of Russia was very high and Stalin was highly regarded. Mao was slightly known, though the Chinese cadres were more aware of what was happening in China
- The MCP drew up programme for post-war Malaya. It was a programme which was discussed and agreed upon the leadership. They were all told that when the war ended, they should seize every opportunity to further interest of the party. This programme was distributed to the rank and file, but they did not discuss them in great detail. They had a vague idea of what to do in the post war Malaya, such as infiltrate into every organisation and to bring in under the influence of the party. They had a university where the best cadres were sent for political courses. They were taught tactics, strategies and political administration of the country. but when the war ended, the MCP was not ready to take over the country. It was short of trained personnel among all three major communities, and most of all the leadership was under Lai Teck, who was later discovered to have betrayed the party by working first for the British and Japanese and then again the British.
- Balan was not aware of what went on in the central committee until he became a member in early 1948.
Indian National Army (INA) and MPAJA during Japanese Occupation
- According to Balan, INA could not intervene on behalf of the Indians when it came to labour recruits to Death Railway. There was no possibility of exemption from labour service to the Japanese Administration. Any Indian, or for that natter anyone who disobeyed would be punished.
- When Bose came to Malaya in 1943, he toured the country and made speeches asking the Indians to join the INA and contribute money in support of its course. The INA was formed consisting mainly of Malayan Indians. Wealthy Indians, such as Chettiars, contributed money. The girls joined the Jhansi of Rani Regiment. But soon disillusionment set in.
- At the ground level, the treatment of INA soldiers was not good. many deserted and joined MPAJA. Desertion and defection were common throughout 1944 when it was felt that Allied Powers were in ascendancy in the war against Japan. Many INA deserters were accepted by MPAJA as sympathizer. MPAJA appreciated the struggle of INA for the independence of India.
- Later MCP openly denounced the INA for its collaborationism, and urged INA elements to defect to the MPAJA.
- After INA failure in Imphal, many more INA members joined MPAJA. Just before the Japanese surrender, there were talks between MPAJA and INA. The talk were aimed at getting INA to team up with MPAJA to fight against the British. The British became aware of this move, and tried to sabotage it. The INA chief was contacted by the British and persuaded not to go through with the plan. Clashes resulted between the INA and the MPAJA. The reason why the MPAJA agreed to negotiate with the INA was that militarily, the INA was quite powerful and MPAJA had concealed some regards for INA
- MPAJA felt sorry for the Indian community because they had been involved with army which was discredited by its defeat. It was also realized that when the British returned, those who had served in the INA would be punished.